The moment George Zimmerman stepped out of the car to follow Trayvon, Zimmerman either knowingly or not, tread in the footsteps of those who have fervently believed all of the racially constructed stereotypes of black men America’s tortured history offers.
Inherited ‘white privilege’
It has been posited that George Zimmerman could not possibly be racist because he is part Latino. That too, is a misnomer. Anyone can be racist, and perhaps Zimmerman’s own father is responsible for what George Zimmerman has learned about race in America. Robert Zimmerman, Sr.’s book, with a provocative chapter called “Who are the true racists,” proves this questionable “post racial” philosophy. Zimmerman’s father’s claim that racism is flourishing at the insistence of the black community overlooks his own white privilege.
The trope of “black people are racists” because they discuss and deplore racial injustice is a clever feint by some on the right to prove that they are not racist. It also minimizes discussion of the real and substantial racism that still exists in jobs, education, law enforcement and every other area of American society.
By giving themselves a pass on race, the strategy gives them opportunity to use race as a weapon to silence the truth, and remain comfortable in their imagined superiority. That is why I think leaving race out of the courtroom bolstered the defense.
George Zimmerman also traded upon his inherited “white” privilege. Identified by Sanford police initially as white, Zimmerman was not initially charged in the shooting of Trayvon Martin.
It took a concerted effort to bring charges against Zimmerman, resulting in a trial. Zimmerman’s defense attorneys have based their case on obfuscating the evidence, making their case simply: It was Trayvon Martin’s fault that he died. It was not the fault of the man who proclaimed that the shooting was “Gods will” on a nationally televised interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity.
Riot hype directed at African-Americans
The fevered murmurings of right wing pundits about riots prior to the verdict was a steady drumbeat of fear mongering and race baiting, based in constructed racial stereotypes. To infer that all blacks will start to riot if Zimmerman is let off is disingenuous. Emotions are running high, but to assume mass riots is playing a particular race card, one imbued with the racial trope of black people inciting violence at a drop of a hat.
Riots, however, are not protests. Protests are expressions of disbelief, of longing for change. It is how the civil rights movement changed America, becoming a model for many movements for democracy around the world.
The America of the 2013, however, is sliding back to the Reconstruction period of the 19th century. Voting rights vacated, young black men being killed because they look suspicious, women’s reproductive rights stripped. The Zimmerman verdict is just the pinnacle of a shameful spiral of American democracy.
Another needless casualty
For those of us who know, study and remember the tortured racial history of America, we know what time it is. For millions of others, it is a wake-up call.
While I am sure that Judge Nelson had her reasons to ban the term “racial profiling” from opening arguments, this trial is a stark reminder of how difficult is it to discuss and confront publicly the nation’s shameful past and present regarding race.
Many Americans believe that “racism is over”, but it is not. Racism lingers and festers in every level of American society.
When prosecution attorney Bernie De La Rionda quoted Martin Luther King Jr. in his closing arguments, stating “I have a dream that a witness will not be judged by the color of her personality but by the content of her testimony” what I believe he meant was the color of Rachel Jeantel’s skin.
The struggle for civil rights that MLK and countless others fought for is ongoing, and his words from Letter from Birmingham Jail resonate today: “Justice too long delayed is justice denied”.
Trayvon Martin’s death at the hands of George Zimmerman is another needless casualty in America’s poisonous racial history.
Follow Professor Anthea Butler on Twitter @antheabutler.